Two Yacht Losses, Many Lessons Learned

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“Easy Go” in happier days.

Earlier in the winter, I was saddened to learn of the loss of the junk rigged schooner Easy Go and today I was shocked to learn of the abandonment of the 42-foot catamaran Be Good Too; luckily there was no loss of life in either case. I think there is a lot we can all learn from both these cases and that’s what this post is about.

But first I need to say that this is a difficult post to write. Drawing lessons from the actions of people who have been through a harrowing experience at sea from the comfort of a warm condo in the Canadian Rockies has the potential to be the worst kind of sanctimonious second guessing.

I will try to avoid that and concentrate on what we can all learn from these two abandonments, but inevitably the very process of highlighting lessons learned carries with it some implied criticism. I can’t help that, but do know that I am only too aware of the mistakes that I have made in my offshore sailing career and that the fact that I have never lost a boat or had to call for assistance was on several occasions more the result of good luck than good judgement.

One other thing. I have based this post on two short accounts of what happened, posted by two of the participants. This is by no means a well researched technical analysis. I could easily be wrong about the details or the inference I have drawn from these accounts. However, I have also cranked in my own considerable experience in the area as well as my reading of the accounts of scores of other losses in the same area over some 40 years. What I’m trying to convey here is that I may have one or two details wrong about these particular casualties, but don’t let that influence you into missing the overall message.

Ok, enough covering my ass, on to my thoughts on the lessons learned.

Winter North Atlantic

You have all heard my rants about the hubris induced by the assumption that a good weather router can keep us out of trouble no matter the ocean or the season, so I won’t burden you with that yet again.

So let’s look at timing. Easy go left Nova Scotia on or about November 1st and Be Good Too left New York on January 8th. By early November winter weather patterns have set in in Nova Scotia and the same goes double for the latitude of New York in January.

I don’t care how strong a boat is, or how strong the crew, the bottom line is that the North Atlantic in winter, at least north of Cape Hatteras, is simply a dangerous place for a yacht and most should not be out there.

That’s a pretty sweeping statement I know. But I’m not alone in that opinion. Don Street feels the same way. I would urge you to read Don’s article in full. Applying Don’s wisdom and my own experience I would say that Easy Go, rather than leaving direct from Nova Scotia, would have been better off to coast-hop south to at least Newport and better still Norfolk, Virginia, before striking out for the West Indies.

This would have given her a potentially better sailing angle with the prevailing southwest winds and increased her chances of getting clear of the Gulf Stream before being hit by bad weather.

This is particularly true for a small and relatively slow boat like Easy Go. What might be OK for our own 56-foot cutter, or a boat like her, capable of easily reeling off 170-mile days in most weather is perhaps not advisable in a junk rigged dory barely capable of 100-miles a day, and far less than that when the wind comes forward and the sea gets up.

By January, the winter weather has moved further south and so the same theory applies to Be Good Too: In my opinion, she would have been far better off to coast hop south and leave from Beaufort, North Carolina, south of Hatteras.

Beware The Gulf Stream

I have said this over and over again, but when crews as experienced as those on these two boats make the same mistake over and over again–in both cases, as far as I can see, much of the damage that lead to abandonment occurred in the Gulf Stream–I will repeat myself.

Do not even think about entering the Gulf Stream in heavy weather. Heave-to outside the Stream. Sail at right angles to your desired course. Turn around and go back. Have Scotty beam you up. I don’t care what you do, but don’t enter the Stream unless you are sure that you can clear the Stream and any associated eddies, before the weather gets nasty…got it?

And don’t assume that just because the strong wind is forecast to blow in the same direction as the core current is running that you will be OK. The Stream is not a nice well behaved river that all runs in the same direction. There are frequently areas on either side of the Stream where the current can be running in the opposite direction to the core.

Get in an area with as little as 1.5 knots running against winds in excess of 30 knots that have been blowing for any length of time and you will encounter dangerous breaking waves that can damage even the most well found boat. These are not freak waves, or rogue waves, or anything else strange or unusual. They are simply the result of wind against current and they will always be in these areas when these conditions occur, so if you don’t want to try conclusions (battle it out) with these waves, don’t be in those areas.

By the way, I’m not saying that it is easy to avoid such areas and that anyone who gets caught in one was stupid, particularly since I have been caught a few times myself, albeit before the level of on-board weather and current reporting that we have now was available.

The Gulf Stream can be, particularly when in cahoots with fall weather, a cunning foe that sets traps that the unwary can easily enter with no easy way out, one or even two days before the trap snaps shut. And worse still, many, perhaps most, weather routers don’t have the necessary understanding of realistic boat performance to recognise those traps in time to avoid them.

Shake Down First

OK, this one is aimed squarely at Be Good Too. This boat was brand new and, to make matters worse, was hull number one of the design. She was so new that she was first test sailed on November 26th!

And then the delivery skipper took this boat into the North Atlantic in January, untried by an easier ocean passage. I know, that’s what delivery skippers have to do to make a living. And plenty of them do it over and over again without mishap–one of the reasons I admire many members of that profession. And I’m sure that the very experienced skipper in this case was getting all kinds of pressure to get cracking.

But the bottom line is that in this case it didn’t end well. As you can read in the account, when it got nasty, a series of cascading failures and weaknesses, most of which could probably have been found and fixed over a proper shakedown period, led to abandonment. I hope both delivery skippers and others will learn from this.

Single-Handing Is Tough

Let’s turn our attention to Easy Go. Bob, her owner, has a lot of experience, including a lot single-handed. And I’m no rabid critic of single-handing, having done quite a bit myself. But there are, in my opinion, places and times where single handing is OK, and places and times where being by yourself may not be a good idea. My suggestion is that late fall passages south from Nova Scotia are the latter.

The Root Causes

I could probably go on dissecting and second guessing  these two losses for pages. However, in my opinion, most, maybe all, of the other contributing problems were rooted in the factors I have already covered, so I will stop here.

This is Not About The Abandonment Decision

One other thing, you will note that I have not tackled the thorny issue of whether or not the crews should have abandoned these boats that were still floating and relatively watertight. That’s because I have been offshore in really nasty conditions often enough to know that unless you were actually there in a given set of circumstances you really have no idea what it was like. These crews made the right abandon decision for themselves.

Having said that, the abandonment of Be Good Too does highlight the importance of having a viable steering alternative aboard in case of rudder damage.

Further Reading

{ 76 comments… add one }

  • Travis C January 18, 2014, 4:14 pm

    Excellent analysis John. Aboard submarines we still critique navigation and ship-handling errors from many years ago, because doing so makes you a better ship driver. Applying the same systematic review of events aboard any vessel and taking the time to say”Where’s my next accident at?” will help everyone be that little bit safer when casting off the lines.

    Reply
  • Dave Benjamin January 18, 2014, 4:18 pm

    John,
    The loss of “Be Good Too” is reminiscent of the loss of a catamaran here on the west coast several years ago. Sadly that one ended with loss of all aboard. The boat was enroute to Seattle for the January boat show. The Northern California and Pacific Northwest coastline is no place to be in the winter, particularly with a storm forecast. However the delivery captain “had a schedule to keep” and pressed on. One of my dock neighbors, a circumnavigator with over 130,000 sea miles and knowledge of our coast strongly advised the captain to stay put. The boat was found on an Oregon beach after the storm.

    Commercial pressures can cloud judgement.

    Reply
    • RDE (Richard Elder) January 18, 2014, 5:54 pm

      Hi Dave,
      I remember that boat washing ashore near Tillamook Oregon. A year or two later a French delivery skipper tried to deliver one of those Lagoons with the helm station about 20 feet in the air singlehanded from France to the winter Seattle boat show. Fortunately for him he got so far behind schedule that he was able to leave the boat in California and finally finish the delivery in the spring.

      Hard way to make a living.

      Reply
      • Dave Benjamin January 18, 2014, 6:07 pm

        Richard,

        Before my divorce in 2007 I used to own a beach condo in Oregon about 30 miles south of Tillamook. Being out there during a winter storm was awe inspiring. The storm that claimed that cat was forecast well in advance and it was a pretty significant weather event. I would not have wanted to be driving up the highway in those conditions much less being at sea in anything less stable than an aircraft carrier.

        Reply
  • Scott Kuhner January 18, 2014, 4:58 pm

    John, I agree 100% about staying away from the Gulf Stream in seasons when there could be rough and dangerous weather. In July on 1974, Kitty and I were sailing our 30 foot Allied Seawind Ketch, “Bebinka” back from the Caribbean to New York. We had been delayed due to medical reasons; but, left for NY thinking no problem, even though another sailor said not to go between Hatteras and Bermuda, instead go either to Bermuda or come in at Beaufort, NC. On July 14th 1974 (I will never forget the date) we got caught in hurricane force winds (70+kts) and huge seas. At first we hove-to then went to lying a-hull under bare poles. The motion was deceptively calm until in the middle of the night, we fell off a huge wave. I am not sure if we actually did a 360; but, Kitty and I were both lying on the overhead in what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a couple of seconds. As we hit the trough, the main hatch blew off and when we righted the water was up to the level of the bunks. (We were however, lucky enough to have the most efficient bilge pump in the world, a frightened woman with a bucket.) The grab rails on the deck were blown off as was our windvane self-steering and our spray dodger. Also the main boom was bent and the sail below the reef points was torn. Back in those days we did not have access to good weather forecasts. nor did we have a parachute or sea anchor on board. We had no radios capable of calling for help. By the next day the wind had moderated and we were able to limp slowly all the way up to New York Harbor. I WILL NEVER COME UP FROM OR GO DOWN TO THE CARIBBEAN DURING THE HURRICANE SEASON AGAIN.

    Reply
    • John January 18, 2014, 9:20 pm

      Hi Scott,

      Well that’s clear!

      Just so others know that Scott is no shrinking violet, he has circumnavigated twice and sailed to and from Bermuda in the one-two, several times, and probably a lot more besides that I don’t know about.

      Reply
    • Smackdaddy January 22, 2014, 3:15 pm

      Scott – I remember this story in the BFS thread on SN. If I recall, you even put some pics up of the boat after that roll. That convinced me. John – great write up. This and your SDR analysis were spot on in my opinion.

      Reply
      • Scott Kuhner January 22, 2014, 11:22 pm

        Smackdaddy, To see the pictures of Bebinka after the knockdown go to:
        http://www.pbase.com/akuhner/image/101757909
        And then scroll down to read the text and then click “next” at the bottom right of the page. Just to bring back the memories for you.

        Reply
        • Marc Dacey January 24, 2014, 5:14 pm

          An impressive blast from the past. I noticed a few things: you carried spares like plywood, you set hank-on twins on the forestay and were able to hand-crank the diesel.

          Where you were short in reliable forecasting, you seemed to have a lot of old-school seamanship to fall back on. I’m glad to hear you got through it.

          Reply
  • RDE (Richard Elder) January 18, 2014, 5:30 pm

    I’d be remiss to second guess the decision process of highly experienced delivery skippers like Hank and Charlie whom I respect . However I leaned some time ago that I don’t have the right mentality to be a delivery skipper—Time is money–throw your sea bag on board, fill up the diesel tanks, flip the switches to see what works and what doesn’t, and hit the road.

    However as a yacht builder there are several things about this episode that immediately come to mind.
    1- Lack of an emergency steering system. With the near vertical transom shape of the it Alpha 42 cat it would be relatively easy to have a bolt- on bracket and complete spare rudder system available. Should be standard equipment on any boat bound for an offshore passage. (Another good argument for an externally hung rudder for the A-40)
    2- Lack of a sea anchor. If the boat had a proper sea anchor and bridle, which catamaran experts including the designer view as the best storm survival tactic, they would have been much more secure and able to ride out heavier weather rather than wandering around with no directional control.
    3- Window size: Catamaran designers cater to their clients desire for floating condos and thus invariably want to incorporate picture windows. If you look at the panel sizes of the windows on the Alpha 42 they are huge. No matter how thick the polycarbonate, they invariably flex under full wave impact and thus break their seals. I was guilty of wanting a glass palace when I designed the Lightspeed 58 fifteen years ago, but at least I kept the panel sizes reasonable. Also I went to the expense of making a mold for every window and having them blown by a manufacturer of kit aircraft canopies. The 2 axis curvature results in a much greater panel stiffness. Catamaran designers seem to think that waves never can hit their cabin structures because they are so high off the water. I remember having a Dark & Stormy in the Dingy Club bar in Bermuda and listening to a delivery skipper telling a story about a common production catamaran he was delivering being hit by a wave just like the one that hit the Alpa 42. At first they couldn’t understand why halyard tails were sticking into the salon along with all the water—-.
    4- Daggerboards: Having the ability to retract the underwater appendages substantially increases the ability of the boat to slide off from wave impact rather than trip over the keels. As an added bonus, a daggerboard is an ideal basis for a jury rigged emergency rudder. Think a pre-designed gudgeon bracket and a set of pittles that clamp over the daggerboard at an appropriate location, and and an emergency tiller attached the same way.
    5- Length: For a catamaran that is going to weigh at least 22,000# fully laden, 42′ hulls are on the short side. Better to pay more for dockage and stretch the hull length to 47′ while keeping everything else the same.

    Reply
    • John January 18, 2014, 9:16 pm

      Hi Richard,

      All really good and interesting points that we can all learn from, thanks.

      Reply
  • RDE (Richard Elder) January 18, 2014, 5:45 pm

    As a footnote, while one month is certainly too short a time frame for testing and development of a new vessel before undertaking a difficult offshore passage, as it turns out the designer and builder did subject it to a heavy weather extended sea trial before turning it over to the purchaser. I have no doubt that there are many boats that have circumnavigated while experiencing less heavy going than the Alpha 42 did during its sea trials.

    “Extreme winter testing of the Alpha 42 continues as the boat has completed half of its circumnavigation of Long Island. The crew of 3 consisting of Gregor Tarjan, his partner Marc Anassis and Kenny have faced arctic gales in the North Atlantic with winds up to 35 knots and walls of 8′ seas. The boat has proven to be extremely strong and stiff. In spite of the rough conditions, the very high bridgedeck clearance of the boat assured that not one single time did a wave pound the main deck. Conditions are harsh and the crew only ventures outside the heated interior if absolutely necessary. The Alpha’s decks have been covered with ice and walking on them has become extremely hazardous. The Alpha 42 might be the only cruising catamaran which has been tested under such harsh conditions.” http://www.aeroyacht.com/2014/01/02/alpha-01-attacks-the-ice/

    Reply
    • John January 18, 2014, 9:16 pm

      Hi Richard,

      Yes, I read that on the boat builder’s website. And we do need to give them credit for the testing they did. More than most, I would think. Having said that, I’m going by results, and the litany of failures detailed in Charlie’s post is pretty disturbing. Bottom line, if you have that many failures you didn’t sea trial enough.

      Also, this was boat number one. Is a single circumnavigation of Long Island adequate for the first boat? Not to me. We are planning a lot more than that for the Adventure 40 prototype–probably take six months to a year and I would guess that by the time we are done the boat will have at least 10,000 miles on it. In fact this testing program is one of the biggest factors that will make the A40 different.

      Reply
    • Horatio Marteleira January 19, 2014, 7:11 pm

      Hi Richard,
      Tested in severe conditions of 35 kt winds and 8-foot seas?
      That’s rough weather, but doesn’t sound very severe to me.

      Reply
    • Erik de Jong January 20, 2014, 12:25 am

      I think that the story that Richard is telling here about testing and de-bugging actually shows the difference between shipbuilding and yacht building.

      Where a sea going commercial vessel will be on sea trials for usually not longer than two weeks before being taken into service, a yacht is being tested and de-bugged for several years before it can be considered reliable and sea worthy.

      The yacht building industry has to work with tight budgets, every second ship owner wants to reinvent the wheel and worst of all (or good, depends on how you look at it), most yachts will never be put to the test with severe conditions. So even if hundreds of boats are built of one type, that is still no proof that the boat is structurally sound and the systems are sized correctly.

      If a yacht was designed, built, maintained and operated like a commercial sea going ship, I’m convinced that we will not hear many stories of failure and abandonment any more.

      Just looking at manufacturer’s specs for equipment on yachts, like winches, pumps, chargers etc. says enough. While building our own expedition vessel, I barely ever looked at the manufacturer’s recommendation for sizing, but always asked for the spec sheets to verify with my own calculations if the piece would work for the vessel
      1 Often, there are no standards of how performance needs to be measured. Take a diesel engine for example. If you look at industrial engines, you can choose the same engines with an A, B, C or D rating. These ratings stand for continues full duty, maximum 6 hours at the time, never full power and so on. The horsepower that the engine can put out is adjusted to which rating the vessels profile requires. This is all regulated and put in codes. When looking at an engine for a yacht, you never read anything about the different power profiles. Luckily we as “yachties” are never running continuously on 100% power, otherwise we would have major problems.
      2 Equipment for yachts is, just like the boats itself, barely ever put to the test and manufacturers do therefore not get the required feedback via their warranty system to improve the product.
      3 Because nobody uses it in heavy conditions, the census seems to be that these pieces of equipment can be sized smaller and therefore cheaper. Hey, it worked on 200 boats, so it is also good for number 201!
      In my experience, this has led to a specification system that works for most boats, but not for vessels that you will take offshore on serious passages. A good way to ensure that your boat is up to the task is to check it against regulations and specifications that are used for commercial vessels.
      It will cost more money, but I think it is safer (and smarter) to reduce the amount of gear that you put on your boat, and spec the gear that you do need properly and up to the task. (John’s wonderful and so true “needs” and “wants” list is very applicable)

      When building a yacht with these principles, as if it were a commercial vessel, and do some serious testing in port, changes are that there will be no dangerous bugs left after the first 2 weeks of testing and it will result in good and reliable offshore yachts that do what they are meant for: carry you safe and sound from A to B. When a vessel does not fail, you won’t have to abandon it either.

      Reply
      • Horatio Marteleira January 20, 2014, 4:50 am

        Hi Erik,
        Thanks for your “insider” insight. It makes perfect sense to me, especially the part about lots of fancy gear while sacrificing robustness.
        I sail a Corbin 39 (known as an overbuilt boat). I call it the naked boat for its lack of gear, but it never let me down, even in 8 m waves (as opposed to 8 feet) in the Gulf Stream and a wave crashing over the deck.
        On the other hand, I believe that most production boats are up to the job for coastal sailing since they never get sailed in “severe” conditions and are designed for comfortable life aboard. And that’s what most people do and want.

        Reply
  • Wilson Fitt January 18, 2014, 7:17 pm

    It seems that at least one boat is lost every year on a fall trip from eastern Canada or the US to the Caribbean. It is a difficult and potentially dangerous passage. I have friends and acquaintances who have done it safely many times, but another who abandoned his boat and endured a harrowing “rescue” by a Russian container ship.

    In 1999 we set out from Nova Scotia for a winter in paradise aboard our just launched, backyard built, wooden boat with minimal equipment or experience. However, I did have enough sense to heed Don Street’s advice and take a pleasant coastal cruise to Beaufort North Carolina. We headed out to sea on a fair breeze the morning after passage of a cold front in the first week of November and arrived safely in St John USVI nine days later.

    We met two other couples while biding our time and waiting for weather in Beaufort. One was American, the other Swiss, both with strong well found boats and all of the possible gear including SSB radios. Both boats left the same day that we did. About a month later we ran into the Americans in the Cruz Bay grocery store and heard the story.

    Both of them were taking routing advice from Herb Hilgenberg. A couple of days into the voyage, Herb started issuing warnings about a depression in the western Caribbean that ultimately turned into Hurricane Lenny, a late season west to east storm. The storm track was very uncertain but he thought it looked potentially bad, which indeed it turned out to be. He thought it would track north across Puerto Rico and into the path of the southbound yachts including us and our American and Swiss friends.

    The Americans, after talking to Herb, peeled off to Bermuda and ended up being pinned down by weather for several weeks before finally getting a “weather window” (I think that was the first time I ever heard that phrase) and making a successful voyage to their intended destination in the USVI.

    The Swiss kept on heading south but started having boat troubles. After nine or ten days, they were becalmed a couple of hundred miles north of Puerto Rico (I remember that heavy, ominous weather in the days leading up to the storm) with a dead engine and dying batteries due to failure of a fuel lift pump and in grave fear that Lennie was lined up for a direct hit. After what I was told were dramatic radio exchanges with Herb, they abandoned their boat and were taken aboard a container ship bound for the States. From what I gathered in subsequent conversations with people who heard the radio traffic, their abandonment was more due to the mental state of the crew than the physical state of the boat.

    We, of course, plowed along in ignorance without radio or forecast, and arrived at the intended destination only to find everyone busy preparing for a hurricane. Instead of passing over Puerto Rico, it went due west and parked over Saint Martin, doing great damage and sinking many boats in the lagoon. We rode it out safely in Hurricane Hole, Saint John. The Swiss boat was towed into San Juan but not before it had been found by someone else and stripped of most valuable gear.

    My point in this , if I have one, is to agree with John and say that I would also avoid the Gulf Stream late in the season when there are better, if not faster, alternatives for a voyage south. However, a fall trip to the Caribbean is dangerous regardless of route. If Hurricane Lenny had gone north like Herb thought it would, I might not be here to tell this story.

    Reply
    • John January 19, 2014, 4:02 pm

      Hi Wilson,

      Great story that leads to an important point at the end that was true then, and is probably even more true, with climate change, now. Thanks.

      Reply
  • Gus Wilson January 18, 2014, 8:52 pm

    I think this was a good analysis, and John, you said some things that are hard to say. One more good reason about going south to Beaufort before leaving is that the Gulf Stream is usually closer in, giving you a better chance to get clear of it in any weather window. Another comment is that if there is a low/frontal system moving across the US, it usually means a storm in the Atlantic when it heads offshore. Weather forecasts may not always emphasize this. The warmth of the Gulf Stream can intensify these systems.
    Regarding the comments about the sea trials of the catamaran, I wonder what the wave conditions were in the sea trials? I would guess much less severe than were encountered in the Gulf Stream.

    Reply
  • Viv January 19, 2014, 10:53 am

    Good review of the two sailing incidences.

    The Atlantic is not the place to be in January, off the East coast. As the radio officer on a very large semi-submersible oil rig being towed from the Grand Banks to the Gulf of Mexico in Winter. I radioed Bermuda radio to report position once abeam. 36 hours later I radioed again abeam! We were in a gale force 9+ going backwards with two ocean tugs struggling to keep us going south. Not the place for any yacht.

    In the early 80’s in Jan, there was a particularly nasty low between NY and Bermuda, seven yachts got into serious trouble , a commercial vessel apparently went down and several of the yachts were abandoned. I was delivering a C&C 48 to the Islands and got caught in that storm. The rudder was damaged but we limped into St. Georges and changed out the rudder.

    I was a delivery skipper at the time and it was a mistake to allow business pressure to influence my decision to go in Jan, but I did and although we made it, I learned a big lesson about not risking lives for business.

    Reply
    • John January 19, 2014, 4:00 pm

      Hi Viv,

      Your opening story is an eye opener!

      As to your second story, I think we all did things that were high risk when younger, I know I did, but being a seaman is all about learning, as you did, and not just assuming, as many do, that because one got away with it once it was smart behaviour.

      Andy Chase explains the difference, better than anyone I have ever read, here.

      Reply
  • Tom & Lilly Service January 19, 2014, 12:42 pm

    John, we just read your piece and thought it was spot-on. It is difficult to write about the misfortune of others, however, that is one very effective way to learn. In the Navy Diving & Salvage business we always drafted after-action reports so we could benefit from lessons-learned. As the skipper of a Rescue & Salvage ship I learned a lot from both reading and writing these reports. After retirement, as the ombudsperson for a marine insurance group I analyzed similar incidents, and getting the technical side of these casualties correct is certainly easier than describing the human side, yet the human side is often the driving factor. You did a great job of addressing the important human physiological and psychological issues in your after-action report. I have worked with the US Coast Guard and the US Navy on similar issues; see Disaster On The Way to Paradise (http://www.sailblogs.com/member/tigerlilly/?xjMsgID=191681). We know SV Easy Go; Bob is a good sailor and experienced seaman, but fatigue is our greatest enemy at sea. The lesson for me is to stay dry, warm, and rested – but there is no way for an Old Guy to do that single-handed in the North Atlantic in the winter. You just cannot get there safely… Your observations regarding the lack of due diligence and testing of that new (and very expensive) catamaran were the core issues in that casualty. Thankfully the owners had the foresight to employ an experienced delivery skipper and crew, or that story would likely have ended in tragedy. Lilly enjoys reading about the Adventure 40, and is learning a lot; so am I. The experience is somewhat akin to teaching your wife to drive – best left to someone else… Your cruising boat design discussions with the other curmudgeons should be required reading for boat wives – who usually have good solid common sense, but often just need some straight-forward technical explanations. If more boat wives read about the Adventure 40, fewer inappropriate cruising boats would be bought, and the general quality of the cruising lifestyle would certainly be improved. I have not met a cruising woman yet who did not have safety at the top of her objectives list. Your work has encouraged some really in-depth conversations aboard Tiger Lilly regarding why and how we do things. You have helped Lilly be pro-active regarding her environment afloat – and that is a good thing. We are currently prepping the boat for the South Pacific, and much of your writing is germane to that process. Keep up the good work. Tom & Lilly S/V Tiger Lilly, Spanish Waters, Curacao, N.A.

    Reply
    • John January 19, 2014, 3:56 pm

      Hi Tom & Lilly,

      Curmudgeon? Curmudgeon? Wherever did you get the idea that I was a curmudgeon? You must have been listening to Phyllis.

      Seriously, thanks very much for the kind comments and smart observations. As to your cruise, I would guess that anyone who survives being skipper of a Rescue & Salvage ship is going to find the risk management involved in sailboat cruising child’s play!

      Reply
  • Ben January 19, 2014, 1:16 pm

    Does it seem like there are more abandonments recently? Or am I just hearing about them more, and paying attention. Thanks John for the post.

    Reply
    • John January 19, 2014, 2:13 pm

      Hi Ben,

      My guess, and it is just that, is that there are more abandonments simply because people have reliable communications (sat phones) and can easily call for an evacuation.

      Note Scott’s post above. In that case he and Kitty had no choice, it was either get to land or drown.

      Reply
  • Steve January 19, 2014, 1:20 pm

    Thanks for citing the Don Street “Sailing South” article in your post. I have saved this article to guide my own route planning. Compared to most of the sailors who post on this site, I am a “babe in the woods”, so I need to draw upon the knowledge and experience of master seamen like Street, who probably has the most local knowledge of the Carribean than any other published person alive.

    As Street writes, “In September 1964, Yachting published “Going South,” the first of probably 300 articles that I’ve written. I recommended going to Bermuda in September, when the weather is relatively stable, leaving the boat there, then flying back to Bermuda in December to continue the trip south from there. For November departures, I recommended setting sail from Morehead City. From there, I said to head east-southeast until the butter melts and the trades fill in, typically between 66 degrees and 65 degrees west, then head south. That article is still correct today, and if sailors had followed that advice, it would’ve saved untold lives and saved the underwriters a lot of money.” His more recent article provides more route options than this. Seems like sound advice to me, especially for the less experienced, shorthanded crews, and/or a not fully tested boat.

    I’m going to see if I can find the 1964 article to add to my reference library.

    Raises a question in my mind: What are the recommended timing and routes for going North?

    Reply
    • Tom Service January 19, 2014, 2:43 pm

      When I read Street’s advice in the above quote regarding heading off to Bermuda in September, it raised a red flag in my mind’s eye. I nipped back to the aft cabin and pulled Cornell’s Ocean Atlas from the rack it lives in. I recommend you check out the Pilot Charts for the North Atlantic for the month of September. One of the two predominant tracks describing the history of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic goes right between the East Coast of North America and Bermuda – clearly no place for a yacht in the month of September. I made my living aboard US Navy salvage and diving ships in these waters. A good way to become a topic on one of these discussion panels would be to go out and play tag with a 25 knot SOA Hurricane in a 5 knot SOA cruising sailboat in Hurricane Alley… Take any advice from the Gurus with a grain of salt, and check it out for yourself. Tom S/V Tiger Lilly, Spanish Waters, Curacao, N.A.

      Reply
      • Steve January 19, 2014, 3:16 pm

        Tom,
        Good points and I also questioned the Bermuda in September option. It was the routes with an initial coastal passage before heading offshore when further South that appealed to me, both personally and in the context of this thread.
        And, for sure, I always salt my gurus advice before acting on it! My boat, my passage, my responsibility.
        -Steve

        Reply
        • John January 19, 2014, 3:49 pm

          Hi Steve,

          I like your last sentance a lot!

          Reply
      • John January 19, 2014, 3:48 pm

        Hi Tom,

        I agree completely, September to Bermuda is probably not a good idea, particularly now that hurricanes form further north than they used to. In Don’s defence, back when he initially formed the strategy of going to Bermuda in September, hurricanes almost always formed at least 1000 miles south of Bermuda and also well to the east. Therefore, as long as you left the Eastern Seaboard at a point where there were no hurricanes around, you were probably going to have plenty of time to get to Bermuda before one formed and got far enough north to hurt you. (I have done this myself) Not so today.

        Also, there is now another problem with Don’s strategy: Bermuda is now so crowded with local boats that there are very few, maybe no, safe places to leave a boat during the hurricane season.

        So, on balance, if you need to go south, these days the strategy I advise is to coast-hop south in Sept-Oct. Stay in the Chesapeake, where there are plenty of hurricane holes until things are well and truly calmed down hurricane wise–you may need to wait until December, these days–then nip round Cape Hatteras (inside or outside depending on mast height) and leave for the Islands from Beaufort NC.

        Reply
  • Will January 19, 2014, 2:01 pm

    Hi to all,
    Thanks for the article and the many generous comments. As dead-on as these and many other writings over the years on the subject have been, people still make what are, in my mind, stupid, arrogant and irresponsible decisions-including a few of mine that I lucked out on. It doesn’t take much time to count off such events: the Bounty still stands out especially due to the competence and experience of her skipper, or the racers who ran up on the island off California as she sailed her course on the auto-pilot that neglected to tell them about the “rock” ahead :-) and no one was standing watch.
    So whether in cars, on boats, in the skies and at home, we humans do, and always will, make stupid, arrogant and irresponsible decisions and whether generally or in the moment, the lessons from others remain “unlearned” by too many-hopefully not us, our family or our community.

    So, let’s all try harder to get a little bit more of a reality check, take a little more time and drop the “important’ external schedule as we prepare for and carry-out our sailing ventures whether 0ut in the harbor or off-shore.

    Fair Winds and Following Seas to you all, Will

    Reply
  • Daria Blackwell January 19, 2014, 3:30 pm

    I must admit that when I first heard about these situations I wondered to myself, “What were they thinking heading across that time of year?” And reading some of the comments, it makes me wonder how insurers covered the passage of Be Good Too. I believe Easy Go was not insured. Our insurance stipulates where we can go and when we can go there. The rest is up to us and the gods of fortune.

    Reply
  • Ann Clement January 19, 2014, 4:20 pm

    My husband and I were caught out in a Force 10 between Madiera and Canaries in a prototype Wharram Tiki 46 which we had home built and sailed from England immediately after launch in the autumn of 2002. Years before that I had single handed a Shannon 28 for 15,000 miles including one trans Atlantic and my husband joined me in the Shannon for an additional 10,000 miles including another trans Atlantic two years later, so we were not totally new to ocean sailing. BUT CATAMARANS ARE A BIT DIFFERENT and it is good to remember that.

    Luckily I spoke with Ruth Wharram before we left about what to do if things went, as she said, “tits up”. And when we ran into a Force 10 between Madiera and Canaries, we did as she suggested. Unfortunately we did not have tires to tow behind us (her step number 1) and we had not yet set up to use the para anchor (step 2) which was unfortunate in the extreme. So we tried step 3 and shortened sail to a small amount of roller furler jib going down wind but decided we were going much too fast. Then we tried step 4 and lowered all sail and were still going way too fast (over 8 knots). So then we got to her last step and hove to under bare poles like a raft and lashed the tiller with the boat side ways to wind and wave. This is not what I would have done in the old Shannon, but it worked just as Ruth said in the Wharram.

    There is lots of room under the bridge deck of a Wharram for waves so there is very little pounding there and the air flows easily through the slatted decks and the open netting. The only bridge deck area that is closed over is the very small deck house/pod which is about 8′ x 8′.

    She warned me it would be noisy and we would be scared, and so we were prepared when we were frightened and just stayed inside the pod as she suggested. Because there were no daggerboards, the boat slid sideways easily even though waves broke on top of us repeatedly. And that is how it was for 2.5 days with us only venturing out wearing harnesses clipped in with short leases that prevented us from getting our torso anywhere near the side decks. We checked the beams and lashings by flashlight at twilight and dawn each day and I put out our position hourly on the VHF saying we were safe and well hove to and not needing assistance.
    When the storm had passed, we discovered no damage and very little out of place below but waited another day so we could rest up before sailing gently into the Canaries. There we needed to tighten the beam lashings and lanyards to the shrouds and we stayed there until after Christmas when the weather was more settled.

    There are times to go to sea and times to wait. There are boats able to take it in rough conditions but people need to know that they are the weak link aboard. People need to be prepared to heave to and wait for storms to pass by. Better still, go at the right season and have plans B and C and D all ready and practiced. At the very least, ask some one who is experienced sailing the type of boat you own in rough conditions and follow that advice. Ruth Wharram passed away recently but I can still remember her voice giving us that good advice.

    Ann Clement Peace IV

    Reply
    • John January 20, 2014, 4:28 pm

      Hi Ann,

      Thanks for a really interesting and useful comment. I think that the ability to slide sideways–or skid as Steve Dashew calls it–is one of the most underrated safety features of a design.

      Whether it be a Wharram cat or a French lifting keel monohull, these boats have shown over and over again their ability to avoid an inversion because they don’t trip over their appendages when hit by a wave.

      Reply
  • Wilson Fitt January 19, 2014, 6:13 pm

    A full-on storm in a small yacht is dangerous, but the process of being rescued carries significant dangers that I think should be kept in mind as well. I am very thankful that I do not speak from experience.

    The US Coast Guard executes amazing helicopter rescues even at significant distances offshore. I expect that most people have seen the videos and have been more than impressed by the resources that they bring to bear and the bravery and professionalism of the rescuers. But this beam-me-up service is only available in a very small part of the oceans. Elsewhere, if rescue is even a possibility, it’s probably a big ship with limited manoeuverability and sheer steel sides that are as high as a two or three story building. How do you get from down at water level way up to the deck of something like that?

    A few years ago I saw a video of just such a rescue and had an opportunity to talk to the skipper of the sailboat involved. Typical back story: a late departure from Nova Scotia for Bermuda, gales in the Gulf Stream, sails blown out, fuel running low, crew exhausted and demoralized, mayday call, nearby Russian container ship willing to take them off.

    The whole thing was videoed from the deck of the ship. It stopped and the sailboat, under power, came up on the lee side, caught lines tossed down from above and tied up as if to an enormous quay. The ship was rolling heavily and the yacht was going up and down, taking a terrible beating. A spreader was broken almost immediately and the mast looked like it was in danger of coming down as it smashed repeatedly against the hull of the ship.

    The ship crew put the Jacob’s ladder over and the first of the yacht crew started up, only to fall off as the ladder swung back and forth and banged against the hull of the ship. She fell between the ship and the yacht and, through a miracle was not crushed but managed to get to the stern and scramble back aboard via a sugar scoop transom.

    The ship’s crew lowered another line and, one by one, the yacht crew tied it under their armpits and were hauled aboard by the brute force of several lusty Russians, swinging back and forth, banging against the rough steel hull and acquiring scrapes and bruises and one broken arm in the process.

    This was far and away the most terrifying video I have ever seen. I decided, then and there, that I would need to be in dire straights indeed before concluding that the dangers of staying aboard my boat were greater the dangers of trying to get aboard a passing ship. I hope that I am never faced with the situation.

    Reply
    • John January 20, 2014, 4:23 pm

      Hi Wilson,

      I think you are absolutely right. Getting picked up by a freighter is, I think, just like getting into the liferaft: something you only do when the decks are awash.

      Reply
      • Wilson Fitt March 7, 2014, 6:55 pm

        On Noonsite I ran across the following link to an article about making a transfer from a yacht to a ship at sea. It is the only piece that I have seen that directly addresses the methods and dangers involved. The article quotes Capt. Evans Hoyt of Norwegian Cruise Line (also a very experienced cruising sailor) as follows: “Like getting into a life raft, you shouldn’t make the decision to abandon your boat and board a ship in other than perfect conditions unless you feel that you’re at risk of dying, because the danger of the transfer is greater than the danger of staying on a viable and still-afloat vessel.”

        http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/seamanship/rescue-at-sea-what-happens-when-the-freighter-arrives?page=0,0&cmpid=enews022014&spPodID=030&spMailingID=19945739&spJobID=261203840&spReportId=MjYxMjAzODQwS0

        Reply
        • John March 8, 2014, 11:01 am

          Hi Wilson,

          Great link, and quote.

          For those readers that are not aware, Capt. Hoyt, is not only a senior cruise ship captain he is also a long term live aboard sailboat voyager with experience ranging from Cape Horn to Arctic Norway. It is hard to imagine a better source for this kind of wisdom.

          Reply
  • Dick Stevenson January 19, 2014, 8:30 pm

    Hey all, There is one more recent failure on the high seas that I am quite curious about. This one does not entail any SAR efforts, but I believe it to be still unfolding. It is the curtailment of Kiwi Spirit’s attempt to best Dodge Morgan’s single handed round the world. This is a quite new boat from high end designer as well as a very well thought of boatbuilder with seemingly few expenses spared. Amazingly, KS is pulling out because of enough structural/rigging problems to make the southern ocean not a good bet. I have read Paris’s (skipper) blogs which has details in many areas, but I was unable to discern much detail about the problems. Seems to be another clear indication that it is miles on the boat in all conditions which shake down a boat.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    Reply
    • Dave Benjamin January 19, 2014, 8:37 pm

      Dick,

      Seems like a combination of factors contributing to KS pulling out. From the photos and blog, it appears that the boat was not adequately engineered to begin with or it was sailed too hard. Some of the installation work is sketchy at best. Have you looked at the toggle arrangement for the staysail stay furler?

      Reply
  • Dick Stevenson January 19, 2014, 8:47 pm

    Dave, I read the blogs, but I found only allusions to problems without specifics. I never found pics or illustrations, so if you could include a ruling would appreciate it. If I remember correctly Dodge Morgan’s boat was heavy and fairly simple and conventional, for which he got criticism, but he did his round trip without a hitch. I always admired that boat and thought it would make a great cruiser. Dick

    Reply
  • Marvin January 20, 2014, 12:14 am

    A backup steering system is good, but before that a lot of catamaran builders/designers/owners need to rethink their rudder construction. Many modern (surprisingly heavy) cruising cats have under-built spade rudders. It’s not surprising to see them damaged – and the thin stocks bent badly – by groundings that should only leave a few scrapes. As the most important moving part on a boat, the rudder should be very strong. We all know this already, of course, and it applies to any boat, but for catamarans there’s a particular factor: catamaran owners generally seem to believe that they should hang off a parachute in a blow. That may be smart, but they first need to think hard about what will happen to their rudders if the rode slackens or parts and they are thrown backwards a bit. Other than Wharrams, you don’t see many cats with rudders built to survive falling back on them.

    Modern wheel steering allows owners to remain blissfully unappreciative of the forces exerted on their rudders in reverse (something a tiller on a bigger boat will remind you of when it throws you across the cockpit if you don’t control it while reversing). Other than at-speed impact (which some cat rudders are designed to cope with, e.g. by kicking up), this is the biggest shock load a rudder will ever have, and it will hit both rudders on a cat, unlike most collisions which will hopefully leave one rudder functioning. And if the chute has just been lost, then you’re rudderless and out of control at the very worst time. Hard to test on a sea-trial, or even a month long cruise.

    Reply
  • Bruce Refak January 20, 2014, 1:39 pm

    The cat was abandoned because they lost rudder control. Rip out a table, take apart a cabin door, Take the hinges, screw them to a flat surface, attach the table making a rudder system. many people have gotten home making a system like this in an emergency.

    Reply
    • Horatio Marteleira January 20, 2014, 2:12 pm

      Bruce,
      In my previous comments I didn’t want to sound critical of sailors with much more experience and knowledge than me, especially since it’s much easier to have good ideas sitting at home calmly analyzing the situation.
      However, I also had the same idea as you, well almost. Why not use the boom and a cabinet door (or even just the boom itself) as a makeshift rudder lashed to the Stern.
      Another problem may be the lack of tools. Call me a “nut” but I have saws, hammers, a hydraulic jack, a vice, an axe, a hand-powered drill, a ton of bolts and screws, hoses, clamps…on and on.
      I’m always amazed by how few tools owners of shiny boats tend to have aboard; maybe because they have nowhere to store them without messing up the boat.

      Reply
    • Erik de Jong January 20, 2014, 2:16 pm

      I was not there, and have therefore not a technical opinion on how they should have solved the situation.
      Having said that, I don’t think that a few simple door hinges would be up to the task, if the regular rudder, that was significantly stronger than a door on a regular boat, was bend and unable to be operated.

      On top of that comes that it is pretty close to impossible to install a rudder on a floating boat that moves. I used to own a kolibri 560, a small cold moulded plywood Dutch one design with a transom hung rudder. If there was a significant breeze, i wasn’t even able to attach the rudder in port, let alone install one out of port.

      Just try it yourself, think of ways to jury rig an emergency steering system for your own boat, in theory you will be able to come up with at least 10 different ways of making one with the items you usually have on board, but you will be shocked by how few of them will actually work! This is a very good test that should be part of the preparation for anyone who intents to make a long passage.

      Now again, having said all this, i have met extremely experienced offshore sailors with hundreds of thousands of miles on their resume, but that are absolutely not able to improvise anything like this, or simply do not have the tools on board to make something out of anything.
      Lack of adequate tools is usually a big problem on boats that are scheduled for a delivery crew to sail the boat somewhere.

      Reply
      • John January 20, 2014, 4:21 pm

        Hi Erik,
        I think you are absolutely right about the difficulty of fabricating and fitting an emergency rudder at sea. We did have our spinnaker pole strengthened at what would be the pivot point if using it as a steering oar. And we carry a huge number of tools as well as a lot of spare stuff that could be used in such a project. But even so, I would give us a less that 20% chance of fabricating and installing something that would actually work, and even if we did, I would expect it to break as soon as any weather came up.

        Because of this scepticism, we also carry two Galerider drogues, one small, one large. I am confident that using these and balancing the sails, we could get “Morgan’s Cloud” to sail, very slowly, at pretty much any angle to the apparent wind and get to land, but it would take a while. My guess would be 50 miles a day at best.

        And do keep in mind that our boat already just about stears herself, if the sails are correctly balanced.

        Bottom line, I think that most emergency rudders, and jury rudder plans, are a fig leaf to satisfy inspectors of boats for racing and rallies and that few will actually work.

        Reply
        • Enno January 21, 2014, 6:24 am

          If I do understand this incident correct these rudders did not simply disappear but were bent and twisted. Any jury rigged rudder would have to compensate for steering forces from the original rudders. This sounds difficult to me.

          However this article made me think about possibilities for emergency steering for my boat. I’m using a windpilot selfsteering system. The manufacturer of this gear is offering an emergency rudder to replace the windvane which looks very promising. http://www.windpilot.com/n/wind/en/prod/sosr/
          Is there anybody who tried this system?

          Reply
          • John January 21, 2014, 12:48 pm

            Hi Enno,

            Several of the self steering manufacturers claim this capability. My worry is that I just can’t see how the typical mounting bracket of a self steering gear is going to withstand the loads of actually steering the boat, at least for very long. Having said that, I guess if the rudder blade attached to the gear was small in area, so that it was incapable of exerting a big enough load to break the gear and mounts, it would be useful, but only as long as one was able to trim the boat in such a way that the steering loads were very light.

          • Erik de Jong January 21, 2014, 4:01 pm

            Assuming that the rudder actually works (knowing the windpilot company, they have probably tested it) I do not see myself hanging over the transom in a full sea taking an 80 pound windpilot off the stern, and mount this baby on the same brackets. Even with a sugarscoop stern or a swimming platform of some kind, it is going to be a hell of a task, and serious injury is imminent.

        • Jean-François EEMAN January 21, 2014, 7:12 am

          Hi Erik,
          Hi John,

          I do share your opinion…
          For me the most important question is how well a boat steers herself, balancing her with sails…

          For cats : I believe that with some speed it is possible to steer pretty much of the cats with one rudder.
          If they had had a watertight bulkhead in front of the rudders they could have tried letting go the rudder.

          It would be interesting to know what happened with the cat afterwards. Where did it end up ?
          Not to judge. But to learn… To know what would have happened if nobody was around to pick them up.

          Off the record :
          Erik speaks about a Kolibri 560 and its transom hung rudder.
          I owned a Waarschip 570 (which I sailed singlehanded to Istanbul). Very similar boat, very similar problem.
          Early nineties, Henk Bezeemer , the former editor of the dutch sailing magazine “Zeilen”, broke his rudder when sailing with such a Waarschip 570 from Holland to the Azores (or the other way around, I cannot remember)… He proved he could manage without and that boat was impossible to balance with sails (as each time you moved your weight in the boat you changed the balance)

          Later on, Henk did the same trip without any navigation instruments. Just to show you can reach your destination without…

          Reply
        • Matt Marsh January 21, 2014, 11:14 pm

          Rudder installation is difficult enough on the hard, let alone at sea.
          And, in the case of Be Good Too, the original rudders weren’t lost, but rather torqued out of shape around their shafts. A jury-rigged rudder would not have been able to counteract the huge turning moment being applied by the damaged originals.

          Emergency steering is certainly worthy of consideration when you’re designing or fitting out a boat. It’s more important, though, to get the main steering system right.

          On that note, I point out that it should be impossible to damage any cruising vessel’s rudder through hydrodynamic forces alone. Having the blade whip over from lock to lock in full reverse, or putting the blade perpendicular to the water flow at surfing speed, are predictable and calculable scenarios. If you can damage a rudder with water alone, that rudder does not belong on an offshore boat.

          Reply
          • John January 22, 2014, 1:01 pm

            Hi Matt,

            I wondered about that too, but it is good to have it confirmed by someone with the engineering training to actually know.

            Some years ago, Steve Dashew told me that his standard test for a rudder during sea trials is to back down as fast as the boat will go and then let go of the wheel and let the rudder smash into the stop. Maybe if the builders of that cat had tried that the boat would not have gone to sea.

          • Nick Kats January 22, 2014, 4:19 pm

            Matt
            I imagine (without engineering or numbers) that the forces on a rudder when the boat is suddenly thrown in reverse by violent seas to be accelerating & enormous.
            (This is a big point against using a sea anchor off the bow… use sea anchors only off the stern.)
            The Pardeys installed what I call ‘snubbers’ – ropes from the stern corners horizontally to the trailing edge of the rudder. The job of these ropes being to go taut well before the rudder reached its maximum deviation on either side. This transmits shock to the rope & protects the rudder from jamming or breakage. Simple concept. Attachment points would be very strong, and the rope a bit elastic (nylon?) for some give.
            Works only for outboard rudders on square sterns. Does not apply to the catamaran “Be Good Too” with its underbody spade type rudders.

          • Matt Marsh January 22, 2014, 11:55 pm

            The forces on the rudder of a boat being thrown backwards are indeed enormous.
            They are also predictable, calculable, and to be expected in offshore service. So it makes perfect sense to design not just the rudder, but the entire steering system, to handle those forces within safe working limits.

            Just in case anyone here is working on a rudder design, I am starting to think that the following scenarios should perhaps be included in the calculations:
            – Rudder hard over, boat surfing at say 130% of normal top speed, helmsman loses control, rudder blade is caught at 90 degrees to the water flow. Rudder bending / turning moments and required steering force to remain within working limits.
            – Rudder centred, boat reversing at 100% of normal top speed, helm released, rudder snaps over and hits stop, which compresses. Loads on rudder, shaft and stop must be within working limits.
            – Reversing at 2 knots, rudder impacts solid object and snaps hard over. Blade damage is allowed but shaft and linkages must remain intact.
            Hmm, maybe something for a future article…

          • Nick Kats January 23, 2014, 12:54 pm

            Matt, I look forward to your article on rudders!
            One more thing, for your proposed article. The difference between a rudder attached full length down the keel and a spade rudder is huge.
            With 3 to more sets of strong pintles & gudgeons the rudder mounted full length is supported down its length, acts as a hinge, & is subject to far less stress than a spade rudder.
            Whereas the spade rudder is totally unsupported by the hull the moment the shaft exits the hull, at what I call its ‘neck’. This neck does not exist on a rudder attached full length. This neck is subject to far greater force than seen at any point on a fully supported rudder, and it can be bent in any direction. This is the heart of the problem for loss of steerage for ‘Be Good Too’.
            Analysis of ruddders must include the ‘neck’ of the spade ruddder, the dominant type of rudder in the last two generations.

      • RDE (Richard Elder) January 21, 2014, 2:33 pm

        Hi Eric,
        Couldn’t agree more about the difficulty of fabricating an effective steering system out of available items like a salon table and spinnaker pole and then installing it during an emergency.. On the other hand I can design a system and procedure for installation of an emergency steering system on a catamaran that I am certain will work in an emergency, as can any competent designer if they put their mind to it. Why is there no such system currently available on any production catamaran to my knowledge? Simply because it is more profitable to include a rail mount barbeque as standard equipment that costs $200 rather than increasing the sailaway price of the boat by $1,500+ while introducing thoughts about emergencies in the mind of a prospective new boat purchaser.

        Most problems can be eliminated in the design stage if the what-if question is “how can problems be avoided” rather than how can we best exploit the dreams and fantasies of the customer while holding costs to the minimum. How many production sailboats have molded-in wave breaks surrounding the foredeck hatch? Or raised bosses for the stanchion bases to help prevent leaks? Or handholds in deck salon designs that enable you to move throughout the boat while always holding on? I rest my case!

        Reply
        • Erik de Jong January 21, 2014, 4:15 pm

          Hi Richard,

          I totally agree with you that designing an emergency rudder is not really a big deal IF it is done from scratch while the boat itself is being designed as well. It is also something we will do for the Adventure 40.

          In my opinion, installing and operating an emergency rudder should be practiced just as you would practice to set your trysail, to deploy the Jordan Drogue or know the procedures to follow for the radio. One can figure out reasonably quick and safe what will work for the particular boat and what won’t.
          When I went through that process, I considered it a real eye opener!

          Reply
  • FAIVET DANIELd January 20, 2014, 2:45 pm

    Bonjour
    C est un sujet complique, la securite ? ( question que l on se pose imanquablement pour la perte d un navire ) ….. Elle obeit a plusieurs regles :
    Ce qui est parametrable ; Meteo , periode ou saison des tempetes , endroit, ou localisation , materiel etc
    Le hasard ? …
    Les obligations pour ex cite date de livraison du bateau
    Tous ces elements peuvent, etre mis en donnees algebriques d une equation avec plusieurs inconnues ( donc difficile voire impossible a resoudre ? )
    En 35 ans de navigation comme dans les commentaires d experience des lecteurs de Morgan cloud qui ont beaucoup d experience l on peut ameliorer; la securite par une grande prudence et experience mais il restera toujours le hasard et la chance C est un element que l on ne peut maitriser meme avec la theorie des probabilites ” d Einstein ” c est ma conviction
    Cordialement
    Ulysse

    Reply
  • Scott Kuhner January 21, 2014, 5:46 pm

    When we were sailing from Mauritius to Durban South Africa back in 1973, we weathered a strong front just south of Madagascar. Another boat who left about the same time as we did, also got caught in the front and in the process he lost his rudder. He took his spinnaker pole, bolted a cabinet door to the pole and steered his boat from south of Madagascar to Durban. We met him just outside the entrance and towed him in. To see a picture of Leon getting towed in go to:
    http://www.pbase.com/akuhner/image/101757792

    Reply
  • Dick Stevenson January 22, 2014, 1:17 pm

    John, Matt, and everyone,
    I have looked at a few rudder assemblies and I do not remember any that I would think would even come close to passing that test. The few times if have let go of the wheel going in reverse, I felt lucky not to have broken my wrist trying to grab the wheel to regain control.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    Reply
    • John January 22, 2014, 4:07 pm

      Hi Dick,

      I agree, but that does not make the test any less valid. Rather it just highlights how inadequate the engineering is on most yachts, just as Erik said in an earlier comment.

      Another example: When we finished the last repower on “Morgan’s Cloud” as part of the sea trial I ran her at full speed (a bit over 9 knots) and then slammed her into reverse and immediately brought the throttle back up to full.

      Even though I had warned the mechanics from Billings that this is the way I was going to test, the mechanic aboard questioned my sanity. Simple answer: I can break it here 2 miles from the boatyard, or in West Greenland when I see the bottom coming up fast or a piece of ice at the last minute. Which would you prefer if you were crewing for us?

      By the way, it didn’t break, but then everything in our installation is commercial spec.

      Reply
  • Tom Service January 22, 2014, 5:59 pm

    Rudder Testing
    When a new ship is delivered to the US Navy we conduct a series of trials to prove the capabilities of the vessel, both before and after we take delivery. These trials are under the supervision of a team of technical experts (the Board of Inspection and Survey – INSURV) and are conducted by the ship’s crew. After the ship is commissioned, every five years throughout the life of the ship these same operational tests are conducted by the INSURV Board until she is retired. One of the tests is to back the ship under full power until there is no further gain in speed and then shift the rudder from full right rudder to full left rudder – multiple times. This not only proves the structural strength of the rudder, but also the steering gear which controls it. I was privileged to be in two commissioning crews during my career, a Spruance class destroyer, and a Safeguard class salvage & rescue ship. The Spruance class destroyer had the same 80,000 shaft-horsepower gas turbine power plant, and much the same hull, as the current Arleigh Burke class destroyers. These 7600 ton ships will do in excess of 33 knots full power ahead, and over 9 knots astern. At sea trials we would shift the rudders from stop to stop with over 9 knots of sternway on. I have been in the after steering compartment during these tests, and I saw first hand the tremendous strain the steering gear was under. Another test ( which never failed to pucker up the deck force) was a drop test on the ship’s anchors. We would get off the Continental Shelf and into deep water, then let go an anchor and stop it with the capstain. I honestly do not remember how much chain we let run out before starting to set the brake with the anchor and chain hanging vertical and plunging in the water column (at 90 feet per shot of chain, I seem to remember 5 shots, or 450 feet). I do remember that the wildcat threw a spray of sparks all across the forecastle when we conducted this test. If your life depends on a ship’s system, it must be tested at full operational capability – before you need it. Both military and commercial vessels are fully demonstrated this way in a comprehensive battery of tests. When I took Tiger Lilly out on our first voyage around the world with my family aboard (1987 and 1991) I was certainly glad that our rudder was hung on a very substantial skeg. I knew that when we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean that our lives depended on that rudder staying in the ship, and doing its duty under the most arduous conditions; I knew that there was no one to call if it didn’t… The vessel was uninsured, as are most live-aboard cruising boats (then and now), and at 40 years-old it represented a significant portion of my life’s savings. Most importantly, as Captain / husband / dad I was responsible for three other lives, my wife and two daughters. There was no one going to rescue us in the more remote regions of the world, we had to depend on our little ship and our own abilities. We are currently prepping our vessel and ourselves for a South Pacific cruise this year. As I look around the anchorage here in Spanish Waters, Curacao, there are very few boats that I would want to take to sea. S/V Tiger Lilly is a 1977 CSY44, and I can attest from first hand experience that she is not over built – she is not too tough for that big powerful ocean, and she certainly is not too strong! The strength of a ship must be built into her, for when the going gets truly rough, there is little we can do other than hang on and let her take care of us. The engineers and designers at the Naval Ship Systems Command told me that the hull and structure of most any vessel, large or small, represents only about 25% of her overall cost – the great majority of the resources are expended in systems and design. We have designers and builders in this forum, and I would like to hear their comments on this allocation of a modern yacht’s construction. I believe that the point is that it is foolish in the extreme to skimp on structure. Landsmen may be able to walk away from such misguided decisions, but a seaman cannot. Yet far too often I see yacht builders (in reflection of what yacht buyers are willing to pay for) doing just this. Some would say, “I wish I had the money which the Navy does – but I don’t!” I would reply that an offshore live aboard yacht is much different than what we sailed when we vacationed and week-ended on our boats. An offshore live-aboard yacht is truly a life support system – not a recreational device. Life support systems demand a much greater level of construction and maintenance, and this is a major departure from the way recreational “boaters” think. In World War II the US Navy’s greatest loss was not due to enemy action, but rather a December 1944 Western Pacific typhoon. Valuable ships were sunk, hundreds of lives were lost, and thousands of sailors and marines were injured – just when the nation needed them most. In his after-action report to the Fleet, this is how Admiral Nimitz concluded his remarks: “The time for taking all measures for a ship’s safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy.” That statement is as true now as it was then. It is true when we are building vessels, and it is true when we are operating them. It applies to anyone who goes to sea, the Navy, the Merchant Marine, or an over-the-hill yachtsman (like me) and his trusting wife. I tell folks starting out in this cruising lifestyle that we certainly don’t go hunting for bear, but we better be loaded for one. I also tell them that poor cruisers cannot afford cheap gear. Going to sea is not a drill, it is a true test of man and vessel, on every voyage.

    Reply
    • John January 23, 2014, 12:23 pm

      Hi Tom and Matt,

      A lot of very good points in your comments, thank you. To me a few takeaways from this discussion are:

      • It’s folly to allow the same organization that builds the boat to decide how it should be tested and what the passing grade is. The engineers need to spec this up front. See Matt’s comments.
      • Many modern boat builders are putting the money into the wrong places. Building a strong hull and appendages really should not add very much to the cost of the boat. Drop a few silly “features” and it should be easily affordable.
      • The market is getting the boats they deserve because they are not demanding more.

      I love Tom’s closing comment “we certainly don’t go hunting for bear, but we better be loaded for one” says it all.

      Reply
    • Erik de Jong January 23, 2014, 12:40 pm

      Hi Tom,

      Regarding your question:

      The engineers and designers at the Naval Ship Systems Command told me that the hull and structure of most any vessel, large or small, represents only about 25% of her overall cost – the great majority of the resources are expended in systems and design. We have designers and builders in this forum, and I would like to hear their comments on this allocation of a modern yacht’s construction

      That is about correct for commercial vessels and the sailing vessels with lots of systems and fancy interiors.
      For the simpler equipped boats with fewer systems and less fancy interiors, it might creep up to 30 or even 35%. But I’ve also seen less than 20% for the hull structure, specially for boats that are built in larger series in composite materials.

      Thus making the structure 20% more expensive to make it safe and sound, would only reflect as 5% on the total budget, and less on the total weight of the vessel.

      Reply
  • Tim Dunn January 23, 2014, 5:17 am

    It turns out that the Alpha 42 has 1.5″ solid SS rudder shafts. Kurt Hughes and Derek Kelsall both think that was inadequate, per their comments on the Multihull newsletter. Also, the tiller was prevented from turning on the shaft only with a set screw! The web inside one of the rudders broke lose of the rudder shaft, as well. I saw no signs of rudder stops in a photo of the steering system below deck. I saw photos of the boat being launched – the rudders were high aspect ratio balanced rudders. The whole steering system of the Alpha 42 sounds like it came in a box of Cracker Jacks to me. As for 35 knots being a tough shake down in semi-sheltered waters, that makes me laugh. To hear the builders describe it, you would think that was a hurricane. Wind pressure increases as the square of the wind speed. I left for the Marquesas in 45 knots of wind one spring from Long Beach, California, and I didn’t think that was any big deal, as the wind was fair for the course. 45 knots is almost twice the wind pressure of 35 knots. Since one of the rudders on was bent but still with ‘Be Good Too’, I doubt if any jury rig could have overcome the influence of the bent rudder which was steering the boat, unless they had managed to cast it off.

    Reply
  • Marc Dacey January 24, 2014, 4:31 pm

    Despite the welcome “saves” here, I did wonder “what were they thinking?” when I read of these two incidents, and I have only a tiny fraction of the offshore experience of the skippers and crew involved. But then, I thought something similar when Bounty went down in Hurricane Sandy…and that was another multi-decades of experience skipper who made that fatal call.

    Was it mean of me to think that when I heard Charlie Doane had been plucked off a crippled catamaran “if only he had followed Herb Hilgenberg’s weather advice…oh, wait.”

    Yeah, it was probably mean. Still, a trenchant analysis and I am always happy to read any commentary from the amazingly vital Don Street.

    Reply
  • John Kettlewell January 25, 2014, 1:56 pm

    I used to own a 32-foot cat and when we went offshore down to the Caribbean and had to lie to a parachute sea anchor we were able to raise our daggerboard rudders and eliminate the problem of surfing back on them. Of course that is not always an option, but it is worth considering if you are designing/planning a cat. And the benefits in really shallow water are great too. I also like transom-hung rudders of various sorts because I think they can easily be made massively strong, and if something does fail they are much easier to repair, and you don’t have the potential of a massive hole in the bottom of the boat if something catastrophic happens.

    Reply
  • Marc Dacey January 26, 2014, 1:12 pm

    I can’t comment on cat construction specifically, but when good, proven ideas (like daggerboards and kick-up transom-hung rudders in this case), I find it helpful to simply ask “why *wouldn’t* we have this approach?”

    The usual case seems to be to avoid calculating the half of the equation that focuses on what may be lost when a design element is altered or abandoned, and to simply consider the perceived benefit. Clearly, race boats must consider that drag is undesirable and a lot of strength and safety elements can be factored downward in order to achieve great speeds, but cruising vessels must first keep the crew safe, the water out, etc. What in fact has developed in the last 20 years or so are high-freeboard, beamy, condo-type sailboats that are built as lightly and as slippery as possible in order to drag their own bulk around at acceptable speeds, which are not permitted to be slower than last year’s model.

    While there are ways to make all that work, it’s clear to me that one of the simplest methods of making a stronger, safer cruiser (whether mono or cat) would be to reduce the interior volume a bit and to beef up all the bulkheads and fittings. Or to just admit that 9 out of 10 production boats, irrespective of their “ocean ratings”, will never see offshore weather and therefore if you don’t go there, you’ll likely never see a smashed rudder or a detabbed bulkhead or the “leaky picture windows” that made the Alpha 42’s bad situation materially worse.

    Reply
  • John Kettlewell January 26, 2014, 2:09 pm

    We have to face the fact that almost every single production boat is built to please buyers at the boat show, at the dock, and while coastal cruising. It makes sense, because that is how 99% of boats will be viewed and used. There are not many production boats where the idea of a mid-winter delivery offshore is contemplated at the design or build stage. The sliding glass patio doors featured on many cats would make me very nervous.

    Reply
    • Marc Dacey January 26, 2014, 9:50 pm

      With me, it’s the almost-always present unsecured floor hatch boards. I picture my 18-inch spanner going for the long jump during a broach. I get a little twitch in my left eye thinking about it.

      Reply
  • Bill Hoffman January 29, 2014, 2:26 pm

    A very important point Eric and others have made is the severe difficulty of deploying an emergency rudder at sea, even in mild conditions. The Pacific Cup (San Francisco to Hawaii) race requires every entrant to have an emergency rudder that has been installed & tested. For every race the organizers sponsor a seminar series on boat preparation. Around 15 years ago, as part of preparing to start our cruising I attended the Pacific Cup preparation seminar series. One evening was devoted exclusively to emergency rudders, and I had the great good fortune to spend a couple of hours in conversations with race veterans who had lost their rudders during the race and deployed their variously designed emergency rudders at sea.
    Emergency rudders relying on a straightforward gudgeon and pintle attachment were nearly impossible to deploy at sea in even a mild surge, let alone conditions that caused loss of the primary rudder.
    The clear consensus of opinion of those who had been there was that by far the best design for practical installation at sea was to fabricate two very strong horizontal rigid sleeves, formed to “wrap around” the exact shape of the emergency rudder at two spots. The sleeves are not attached to the rudder, but when the sleeves are mounted on the stern, the rudder can be inserted securely vertically into the sleeves, daggerboard style, and held with pins or other hardware. Build a strong gudgeon & pintle attachment system on the stern, oriented so that so the forward edge of the rigid sleeves can be attached to the stern one above the other. Deploying each sleeve is (relatively) easy because only the sleeves (and not the rudder) need be mounted in the gudgeons. After mounting the sleeves, drop the rudder daggerboard style into the sleeves. Insert securing hardware in the rudder, attach the pre-designed tiller.
    Wish I had a picture. A while ago I saw a thoughtful article by Evans Starzinger on the subject of blue water steering system design, including the primary steering system as well as emergency rudder design. http://www.bethandevans.com/pdf/emergencyrudder.pdf A worthy read. He also endorses the sleeve concept, which he calls a “cassette” design.
    Illustrating an even more important point of these posts, we’ve now been cruising for 9 years and I haven’t built our emergency rudder yet. Doh! So far our longest passages have been only 5-6 days – like a lot of former racers, we’ve relied on good sailing speed to keep the weather exposure window short — and we’ve let ourselves be lulled into thinking that weather forecasting for only 5-6 days is pretty good nowadays. These posts are a good prod to think more deeply about that.

    Bill Hoffman
    s/v Grateful Red

    Reply
    • John January 29, 2014, 8:37 pm

      Hi Bill,

      I think you are absolutely right. As you know, I used to sail 505 dinghies and I can tell you that if there was even the slightest chop on the launching beach, mounting the rudder could be a real challenge taking every bit of my 25 year-old strength and usually several attempts. There is simply no way to mount a rudder into gudgeons and pintals on a boat offshore without the system you suggest.

      The one thing I would add, is that it is my opinion that many of the auxiliary rudders that are built to satisfy the race authorities are, even with a cassette, simply too weak to really stand up to the loads of steering in any sort of weather. I have pondered long and hard about building an auxiliary rudder that would be both strong enough to steer “Morgan’s Cloud” in big breeze and light enough for Phyllis and I to actually mount, and have come to the conclusion that its probably not possible, which is why we have stuck with out twin drogue system, described above.

      Reply
    • RDE (Richard Elder) January 30, 2014, 6:05 pm

      Hi Bill,
      That is exactly the system I alluded to in my earlier post about the lack of emergency steering on the Alpha 42 catamaran that was abandoned. With a catamaran the center crossbeam provides a perfect attachment point without the complication of the complex stern shapes found on almost all monohulls. And if the cat is a daggerboard design, the daggerboard is an ideal emergency rudder— even “reefable” by controlling how deeply into the sleeves it is inserted.

      Reply
  • Dan June 6, 2014, 4:28 pm

    Hi John

    I can lose hours or a whole day in your site, link to link. …………

    I know I’m on land and don’t mean to be disrespectful. Regarding “Be Good Too” from the “Two yacht loses…” link.

    http://www.wavetrain.net/news-a-views/558-helicopter-evacuation-abandoning-be-good-too

    A more extensive sea trail may have reveled some issues but I think they weren’t done. There’s more to do in their own rescue efforts. The rescue efforts with refueling, may have been unnecessary and creating more life risk. Fix the rudder? My Dad was very good at running aground. When I was a kid, I used dock lines to straighten out the rudder after he plowed into Rhode Island rock by the Vineyard. What about dropping the rudder entirely! I was waiting, in the story for the deal breaker. The unrecoverable event. It never came. It appears that they had a floating vessel with no steering. Perhaps they had inadequate tools. I think you’re not done here and shouldn’t put others at risk. I’m not sure about this story. Nice photos and well documented. Am I just wrong on this. If you can’t bring that boat back don’t go out!.

    In the B-12, Columbia failure, drop the mast before you lose the keel. Swing it under the boat for ballast? or am I nuts. It’s a “Think man think” time when things are breaking and doom is circling the boat. Everyone going offshore should at least be Category 1 compliant or better and be ready to get dirty or wet. I agree with you that looking at the tragic sailing events is good. I’m glad for this post. It keeps me thinking

    Reply

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